Let's create pathways to careers not yet invented

9th October 2009 at 01:00
Comment: Fintan Donohue

We in the post-16 sector need to wake up to the fact that the more progressive sector skills councils have a blueprint for their industries' future.

In the case of the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCI), the model embraces a network of National Skills Academies (NSAs) at colleges led by principals who are prepared to invest cash and time in order to shape and influence that future. Many of the other skills councils seem more reticent about embracing further education as a genuine partner in their design for the future.

Tom Bewick, chief executive of CCI, while committed to partnership is still scathing about the "so-called demand-led system" of education and planning. He said recently: "The UK system is more about student, parent and educationalist demand than about the industries' need for a more innovative, creative and technically qualified workforce."

If you combine this view with the loss of more than 100 college new-build projects this summer, I believe there is an urgent need for the post-16 sector to recognise the changed environment and its implications for the sector's future.

With the skills academy for creative and cultural industries, we have - for the first time - an opportunity to challenge the culture of unpaid work experience in these industries. These outmoded practices discriminate against the talented ones who cannot afford the cost of privileged entry. Colleges need to recognise that creative apprentices and new Diplomas can provide new routes into creative and cultural industries, based on ability rather than social background.

Teachers in our colleges who have long held on to the arts at the expense of the technical will need to be confronted with this new reality. Do we really have the flexible workforce and technical facilities to prepare students for the world that Mr Bewick and his colleagues are creating?

This summer, the Government put on hold pound;1 billion of spending in creative and cultural training facilities within FE. We can now only hope to meet future needs through commercial access to the industries' specialist media, recording, theatre and technical capacity. It is hard to discern this sense of urgency as the sector drifts into yet another academic year.

Media convergence is developing the ability of anyone to generate and distribute creative content. Successful career paths for students need to embrace job-making rather than job-taking. Self-employment, entrepreneurship and the ability to combine earnings as a music technologist, wedding photographer, web designer, lighting technician and performer is not currently at the core of our curriculum thinking.

Awarding bodies too often lack the imagination to create pathways rather than qualifications for employment in the future. We need to prepare our students for careers not yet invented. The sector is fast-moving and we in colleges need to be fleet of foot if we are to anticipate that future.

Well-led sector skills councils with their progressive National Skills Academies are shaping qualifications, funding models and employer perception. We need to be at the table, prepared to learn and seeking to influence. Real strategic and commercially focused partnerships with employers need to be at the core of our strategy for the sector's future.

Fintan Donohue, Principal, North Hertfordshire College.

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